130. Memorandum From John H. Holdridge of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • Direct Contacts Between North Korean and South Korean Representatives

CIA Director Helms informed you in early March that ROK CIA Director Yi Hu-rak had received North Korean feelers for direct contacts between North and South Korean representatives, and was proposing to follow through. He planned to send a ROK newspaperman to P’yongyang for this purpose. (See memorandum at Tab B.)2

Mr. Helms has now sent you another memorandum on this subject (Tab A)3 indicating that Yi Hu-rak is indeed moving ahead. However, Yi has decided to send one of his own CIA men to P’yongyang (via P’anmunjom) instead of the newspaperman. Yi’s man was to proceed to North Korea on March 28 with the ROK Red Cross representatives who were traveling to North Korea for talks with their counterparts, but would remain behind when the others came back. Chargé Underhill and the Chief of Staff of the United Nations Command were informed, and the latter made the necessary arrangements.

It appears that the initiator of these feelers on the North Korean side is the younger brother of Kim Il-song, Kim Yong-chu. If the initial contact between North and South Korean representatives proves successful, including a return visit of a North Korean to Seoul, Yi Hu-rak will attempt to meet with Kim Yong-chu personally in P’yongyang. He [Page 325] has discussed this possibility with President Pak, who has not taken a position yet. However, Yi is confident that Pak would accept his recommendation that he visit P’yongyang. No other senior ROK officials are aware of these developments.

As Yi sees the situation, the contacts will probably not lead to early reunification, but rather to the prevention of war and accidents. Yi will emphasize trade and exchanges rather than political discussions. Nevertheless, he regards these contacts as an historical moment.

[less than 1 line not declassified] Yi Hu-rak has made a number of requests:

  • —That the U.S. and Japan not open too many doors to North Korea until after Yi’s meeting with Kim Yong-chu. This would assist the ROK in this venture. [1½ lines not declassified]
  • —That the visit of American newsmen to North Korea be delayed if possible until after the Yi/Kim Yong-chu meeting, presumably for the same reason.
  • —The U.S. officials in Washington and ROK and elsewhere continue to point out to ROK officials that the North Koreans seem to be making peaceful advances, and to urge ROK representatives to respond in kind. This would create a responsive atmosphere inside the ROK Government which would contribute to ROK support and understanding once these secret initiatives become known. Yi anticipates some initial criticism.

[less than 1 line not declassified] will provide minutes of the exchanges which are taking place. Secretary Rogers as well as yourself will be informed.

Comment: This is a rather remarkable development, given the atmosphere of suspicion which President Pak has been maintaining toward North Korea. It definitely appears to be a reaction to the President’s China initiative; indeed the North Korean feelers are probably also related. We will keep a close watch on the requests made by Yi Hu-rak to assure that no abrupt moves are made on the U.S. part which might inhibit the North Korean-South Korean contacts. State, of course, needs no urging to support the desirability of such contacts.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 543, Country Files, Far East, Korea, Vol. V, Korea, 1972, Part 2. Secret; Sensitive. Sent for information. The memorandum bears Kissinger’s and Haig’s initials.
  2. Tab B, Helms’s memorandum to Kissinger, March 6, is attached but not printed.
  3. Tab A, Helms’s memorandum to Kissinger, March 28, is attached but not printed.